‘Lava’ lights up Yosemite Park: Stunning annual ‘firefall’ illusion caused by setting sun’s reflection makes waterfall on El Capitan look like molten rock
- Amazing pictures show the annual ‘firefall’ phenomenon at California’s Yosemite National Park
- For just a few days in February, the setting sun illuminates Horsetail Fall each evening for a matter of minutes, making it glow like a cascade of molten lava
- The event typically attracts thousands of visitors, but numbers had to be cut this year due to the pandemic
- Park rangers have set up travel restrictions and an online booking system amid COVID social distancing fears
- The waterfall flows down the granite face of the park’s famed rock formation, El Capitan
- Horsetail Fall only flows in the winter or spring, when there is enough rain and snow
No, these stunning pictures from Yosemite National Park don’t show lava falling down the side of a cliff.
The amazing spectacle is actually the park’s annual ‘firefall’ phenomenon, where the setting sun illuminates Horsetail Fall making it glow like a cascade of molten lava.
The optical illusion occurs for just a few days each February – if the conditions are right – and lasts for a matter of minutes in the evening.
The 2,000-foot waterfall plunges down the granite face of the park’s famed rock formation, El Capitan.
The firefall spectacle typically draws thousands of photographers and Instagrammers from around the world.
But this year, the National Park Service brought in entry restrictions and required people to book online due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
There are also concerns that the thousands of photographers were damaging the nearby landscape.
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The firefall can be seen only in mid- to late February when the light from the setting sun illuminates the cliff where Horsetail Fall is flowing
Sunlight hits the Horsetail Fall, turning it into a ‘Firefall’, at Yosemite National Park, California, in February 2021
The optical illusion occurs for just a few days each February, and lasts for a matter of minutes in the evening.
The natural phenomenon creates a brief pink and orange hue that is visible for only a matter of minutes each day
Photographers usually flood to the area each year hoping to catch a glimpse of the optical illusion, but restrictions are in place this year due to the COVID pandemic
The stunning sight is actually an optical illusion created by the setting sun, but only when the weather conditions are just right
The Horsetail Fall is a seasonal waterfall that flows in the winter and spring.
If the weather conditions are right, the setting sun illuminates the water flowing down the rocky face, making it look like fierce orange lava.
Because the so-called ‘firefall’ needs a warm enough temperature to melt snow at the top as well as the sun to set at the right angle and clear skies, the effect is not visible every year.
The firefall also needs evenings with a clear sky, as even a slight haziness of cloudiness can diminish the effect.
Many visitors are disappointed when conditions are not exactly right for the phenomenon.
Yosemite National Park warns on its website: ‘This unique lighting effect happens only on evenings with a clear sky when the waterfall is flowing. Even some haze or minor cloudiness can greatly diminish or eliminate the effect.’
The glowing light makes it seem like the cliff is flowing with molten lava
Yosemite National Park is one of the most spectacular sights in California, filled not just with the annual firefall, pictured, but with an expansive wilderness, granite cliffs taller than buildings and Sequoia trees, some of the largest living things on Earth
Photographers could be seen wearing masks as they took photos of the phenomenon amid the COVID pandemic. The park has reduced access and brought in restrictions requiring people to book reservations in advance to prevent overcrowding